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Was He or Wasn't He?



Acknowledged to be a brilliant debater and parliamentarian, Disraeli is still England's first and only Jewish prime minister. There was much more to Benjamin Disraeli, though, than his career as a nineteenth-century politician. Dandy, novelist, social climber, he often behaved as if politics was merely a way to a more interesting life. This biography takes four areas of Disraeli's complex character and through them constructs an entirely new portrait. Exploring Disraeli's attitudes to society, the monarchy, his own sexuality, and his innate political daring, it rediscovers his irreverence. It sheds new light on the man and his legacy. Drawing on primary sources and much original research, the book seeks to restore the core characteristic of humanity to someone who has long been judged merely another eminent but worthy Victorian. It also explores the game of politics as Disraeli saw it -- the fun and pleasure of it, in a way that compels us to rethink the way politics are presented today.

"A free-wheeling polemic, that is sometimes brilliant, often outrageous, always good humored."

—Jane Ridley, The Spectator

"There’s plenty to admire in this rollicking romp of a biography, which puts the pursuit of pleasure — both Disraeli’s and ours — at its heart."
Mail on Sunday

"I thrilled to [Kuhn's] diligent and allusive method which reinforces the notion of Disraeli's complex and magnetic personality."
Daily Telegraph

"An important biography of Britain's most extravagant Prime Minister, one that combines serious scholarship with readability."
Scotland on Sunday

A salacious imagination is not needed to wonder about the sexual orientation of a man who dresses up in pirate garb, writes novels gasping after gorgeous, ignorant young lords, enjoys a series of passionate friendships with handsome younger men, has his closest female relations with sisters and much older women, and defends, as Disraeli did, the love life of the Turks. Most of his biographers now settle on the formula that he was, in our sense, a closeted gay man, and the question is whether his inclinations were acted upon or not. Hibbert, like Blake, seems to think not, though it is hard to imagine so vivid a man utterly without an outlet, chastity being a stranger perversion than secrecy. Kuhn, on the other hand, is categorical and convincing: he has Disraeli come back from his adventures in the baths of Turkey announcing that he will never be married, and fully conscious of his love for men.
—Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker